Critically ill patients require significant time and care coordination in the emergency department (ED). We hypothesized that ED crowding would delay time to intravenous fluids and antibiotics, decrease utilization of protocolized care, and increase mortality for patients with severe sepsis or septic shock.Methods
This was a retrospective cohort study of severe sepsis patients admitted to the hospital from the ED between January 2005 and February 2010. Associations between four validated measures of ED crowding (occupancy, waiting patients, admitted patients, and patient-hours) assigned at triage, and time of day, time to antibiotics and fluids, and mortality were tested by analyzing trends across crowding quartiles.Results
During the study period, 2913 severe sepsis patients were admitted to the hospital and 1127 (38.7%) qualified for protocolized care. In-hospital mortality was 14.3% overall and 26% for patients qualifying for protocolized care. Time to IV fluids was delayed as ED occupancy rate increased and as patient hours increased. Time to antibiotics increased as occupancy rates, patient hours, and the number of boarding inpatients increased. Implementation rates of protocolized care decreased from 71.3% to 50.5% (p < 0.0001, OR 0.39) as the number of ED inpatient boarders increased; initiation of protocolized care was significantly higher as occupancy increased (OR 1.52). Mortality was unaffected by crowding parameters in all analyses.Conclusions
With increased ED crowding, time to critical severe sepsis therapies significantly increased and protocolized care initiation decreased. As crowding increases, EDs must implement systems that optimize delivery of time-sensitive therapies to critically ill patients.